Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wow! A post on vocabulary, Harry Potter, and technology. What more could you want?

A new word has recently been introduced into my vocabulary, and I'm not sure I'll ever manage to use it quite properly. You know the sort of word I mean. You see it in writing, and you get it, but your tongue doesn't roll over it, and it's definition in context doesn't exactly line up with what Mr. Webster says, so you're not exactly sure you'll get it right if you use it yourself. Today's word: apparatgeist. Wikipedia categorizes it's entry on apparatgeist as "words coined in the 2000s," so while all you science types out there don't think wikipedia is a real source, I would make that argument that for developing, changing, evolving things, like modern vocabulary, it might just accurately reflect the changes. And besides, wikipedia is a great starting ground for trying to understand something.

My sister once came up with the word "disgusterating," meaning something that is both disgusting and aggravating (I think she was applying it to me, acutally...aahh...family love), although I don't think it's been officially "coined."

Tangents aside, an apparatgeist is a term that suggests the spirit of the machine, both in the design of the technology and the significance accorded it by "users, non-users, and anti-users" (or: everybody). In my imagination, this means that Peeves is now able to use cellphones, remote-controlled vehicles, and remotely detonated dungbombs within Hogwarts' walls, which we all know isn't possible, because, like Hermione, we've all read Hogwarts, a History.

Right. So I learned this term through an article in The Economist called "The Apparatgeist calls: How you use your mobile phone has long reflected where you live. But the spirit of the machines may be wiping away cultural differences." The article discusses, how, anywhere in the world you say a modern technology, like television, and people know what you're talking about, but cell phones don't fit that bill because people in different places call them different things. Americans call them cell phones, referring to the technology used to make them work, but some countries call them mobiles, referring to their usefulness, while others call them handys (yes, that's the spelling in the article), referring to their size. The article does not discuss the age-related terms. My friends don't call them anything that I can think of. We just say, call me, or, text me. But my mother, on the other hand, will tell me I can call her because she'll have her cell phone with her (uh, why wouldn't you have your phone with you?...oh, right, because it might be attached to the wall in your house).

Apparently, people use their phones differently in other countries, and have different attitudes about phone use. The Spanish, it seems, find it rude to not answer a call, regardless of what else may be going on (in my world, I have a cell phone for my convenience. Captain America also has a cell phone for my convenience. So I might not answer a call, but Captain America had better have a good reason for not taking my call!).

Local economics might be a factor in cell phone usage, too. In countries where air time is expensive, but phones are relatively cheap, a person might buy a flashier phone, but talk less. If phones are highly-subsidized, people are less likely to take good care of them because the resale values are nonexistent.

Also, in some countries, cell phone penetration rates are over 100% because people have more than one phone (full disclosure: I have more than one phone. I have a free one from my company, and the one I had before I started my job. It has a contract, so I'm waiting for that to expire. I'm too much of a Luddite to think I need more than one phone to look cool. Or maybe I'm just too cool to need to look cool, because a true Luddite probably wouldn't even own a cell phone in the first place.).

Much like an MBA class exercise, Nokia breaks down cell phone users by category, rather than geography. There are "simplicity seekers," who only want their phones for emergencies, "technology leaders," who want the latest devices, and "life jugglers," or people who use their phones to coordinate the many aspects of their lives (think: soccer moms).

In the long run, according to the article, most national use differences will disappear. Personally, I think users will move towards smart phones, or whatever Apple has in the pipeline that's going to be even better than the iPhone. But this is going to be problematic for service providers, who will need to develop more robust (and expensive) networks.

Here's the bigger question, which the article places in the last paragraph: are we becoming slaves to technology? I'm going to say yes, and no. Technology has done some wonderful things. I love being able to google anything and find an answer. I love being able to send friends' links to things they might find interesting. I also love that technology has allowed the creation of amazing devices, such as AED defibrillators, which even I am capable of using.

However, I don't subscribe to twitter (is subscribe really the right word?). Really? You think every thought you have that you can voice in 140 characters is important? Or how about the way that technology can spread illogical panic? H1N1 anyone? Let's kill all the pigs, and oh, yeah, by the way, pandemic means it's been found on all continents. Not that people are dying all over the place. Good job, newscasters!

Also, I think constantly being connected should only be a tool to further relationships, not a surrogate. I'd rather have face-to-face conversations with friends. That not always being possible, sure email and texts are good. I never moved back to my hometown after high school, and I've moved to two different states since I've graduated from college, so I feel I can say, with some degree of accuracy, I'm not really friends with any of my friends that I never actually see. Which is not to say we've had a fight, or don't like each other anymore. Electronic communication alone does not cement relationships. And too many electronic relationships without enough physical ones will foster loneliness.

So what's a person to do? Technology should work for you, not the other way around. Everything in moderation is a pretty good policy, for well, everything. You really can turn off the computer and have coffee with a friend, or put the phone down and talk to your spouse over dinner. And if you've already figured out a way to moderate your technology usage? Good for you! That makes you way cooler than a flashy phone, in my book, anyway!

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